The Holidays are upon us with anticipation in the air and perhaps some mild dread in our hearts.
Along with all the fun of the holiday season, there can also be more stress at this time of the year. Having more events to attend, especially with those who really know how to push our buttons, plus the stress of squeezing work into a busier schedule increases the prospect of old recycled conflicts occurring.
Instead of dreading these interactions, you could welcome them and fully enjoy this season of togetherness by giving yourself the indispensable gift of self awareness – the most effective conflict diffusing tool there is. As Anthony De Mello says in Awareness: Conversations With The Masters, “What you are aware of, you are in control of; what you are not aware of is in control of you.”
How often have you started off the holiday season with the desire and intention of being more kind and loving, but when you get together with that nagging Aunt or that controlling in-law the open-hearted intention is swallowed up in reactivity?
Why does that happen despite your intentions? The Conscious Leadership Group explains it best with the iceberg analogy.
When you look at an iceberg you can see what is above the surface of the water, which is only about a quarter of the mass. Three quarters of the massive body lies below the surface and is the foundation on which the above surface portion is built. It is stronger and more impactful. Just ask any ship captain who thought they had cleared the visible mass only to run a ground on the much larger mass below.
Just like an iceberg, the way you approach interactions is made up of what is seen and unseen. Above the surface and visible to you is your desire – what you say you want. Below the surface and unseen is your unconscious commitments – what you truly believe and do to support that belief. A deep desire may inspire a positive intention, but if what you really believe and are committed to is something different, the outcome won’t match your intention.
No matter how much positive thinking and well meaning intention you carry into a family party, if you are not self-aware and paying attention to your beliefs and commitments, you will end up recycling conflicts. In order to use self awareness to shift these interaction patterns, it is important to identify from where you are really orienting. The best way to identify what you are committed to is to look at the results you are getting. If you experience conflict or agitation with that Aunt or in-law every time you are together, you are committed to conflict and agitation.
It can be a hard pill to swallow — that you are committed to creating conflict, especially when your desire really is to do the opposite.
It does not mean that you don’t want what you say you want. It simply indicates that your unconscious commitment is based on a much deeper and unseen want that overrides your apparent desire. This year you may want to be helpful while also relaxing at family parties, but your deeper commitments could be to be seen as right.
For example, with your intention in mind you offer to help clean up the kitchen. You notice that your sister-in-law keeps arranging items in the dishwasher in a way that is creating less space. You suggest that the work would be done sooner if she were to squeeze more items into the dishwasher leaving less to clean by hand. She explains that she likes it arranged the other way because it is easier to empty after the party is over.
You believe you are right about how to arrange the items and you proceed to demonstrate the “proper” way to fill the dishwasher because you are certain that she will see you are right, once she sees it done properly. She gets annoyed and moves things back. She sends you out of the kitchen, saying “I don’t want you help anymore. I will do it myself.” You get annoyed and state “I am just trying to help.” You feel like you have been scolded and join the rest of the party in an agitated state.
The result is that you experience your help being rejected and you certainly don’t feel relaxed. When you become aware of these results, you then turn up the volume on your self awareness and look deeper to see how you are committed to those results. You can do a sort of self awareness interview asking yourself questions like: What am I believing that causes me to react negatively to this person? Think back on thoughts you have while interacting: for example, “She is doing it wrong? I know a better way to do it. She should do it my way. I can’t believe she can’t see this is the right way to do it. She is so controlling. She should be more flexible. She should accept my help.” If you notice the word “should” in a thought, examine it. The overall theme in this example is “I am right. She is wrong.”
Based on the results and the thoughts behind them, survey says, you are MOST committed to being right. From this awareness, there is an opportunity for you to shift out of conflict and your commitment to being right into a new commitment to be helpful and relaxed. With that new commitment, you might return to the kitchen and say. “I really do want to be helpful. What can I do and how would you like me to do it?” You execute the task as requested and return to the party feeling relaxed knowing that you really were helpful.